Moulton’s “Compromise”: Gut the A-10 for No Good Reason


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Update: after heated debate, the House Armed Services Committee voted early this morning to fund the A-10. Rep. McSally’s amendment prohibiting retirement of the A-10 fleet passed by voice vote, defeating Moulton’s alternative proposal. Read more here.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) has impressive veteran credentials. He fought in Iraq as a Marine officer and served with distinction. His election to Congress was a hopeful moment for those concerned about the plight of veterans after a generation of continuous conflict that has ground down and demoralized the services and their support systems.

The high expectations set for Moulton make what he’s chosen to do with his newfound political capital that much more disappointing. After beginning his time in the House with a spirit of cooperation on defense issues, he’s turning against someone from across the aisle who he vowed back in January to work with forthrightly in tackling the challenges of national defense. He’s seeking to undercut Rep. Martha McSally’s effort to spare the A-10 from the Air Force budget axe, which ironically is also the key to sparing future soldiers and Marines unwarranted risk in future firefights.

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Moulton earlier today previewed a “compromise” amendment to the proposed House version of this year’s nation defense bill. His compromise is to essentially gut an already overworked fleet, reducing the A-10 inventory from 283 to 119 aircraft. This as A-10s continue to take the fight to adversaries on one continent while deterring them on another. This after the House Armed Services Committee included enough money to carry the A-10 through another dozen years of service — in recognition of the necessity of a dedicated attack capability and the risk of lost close air support capacity before a bona fide follow-on can be developed.

Why did Moulton do this? Well, with respect to the former captain, it’s got nothing to do with the reasons he states in his proposal.

Moulton says he wants the move so it can free up cash for items on the military’s unfunded “want” list. That makes no sense. The services need viable close air support now. What they want is irrelevant unless Moulton and his fellow lawmakers want to expand the budget to fund “nice to haves.” As he more than anyone should know, a grunt in a close firefight doesn’t regard an A-10 as a luxury.

Moulton also parrots the Air Force’s party line about how it will come up short on maintainers if it is “forced” to retain the A-10. Here, the first-term Congressman appears to have been hoodwinked. If the Air Force managed to persuade him this maintainer business is a real problem, he’s got a lot to learn.

The Air Force cashiered 19,000 airmen in 2014 — despite having been given five full years to accomplish this task. If it truly needed manpower, it would never have jammed a five-year drawdown into the space of several months, leaving a trail of human wreckage about which both Moulton and McSally should be more curious. The Air Force has enough manpower to maintain a dozen different musical bands, a traveling show choir, a corps of front office aides for senior enlisted members, and a VIP airlift fleet larger all by itself than most of the world’s air forces. This is a management problem, not a manpower problem. Moulton should not degrade his own credibility by joining this false chorus.

Finally, Moulton commits the same error as the Air Force by failing to check with key stakeholders before taking a position. Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs — airmen who coordinate and call in air strikes while embedded within ground units) contacted for this article resented his characterization of the A-10 inventory as “excess,” given that they can’t consistently get support from close air support aircraft and crews for essential training. One veteran JTAC went further, questioning Moulton’s grasp of the close air support mission as follows:

“He says the ‘B-1 and F-16 can provide the same end affects of CAS.’  Sitting on a mountain top and looking at a target two miles away and you will not hear me whine about getting either one of those aircraft.  When the enemy is within small arms range and bullets are hitting around you and over your head and you cannot take your time and provide accurate coordinates … Hell no, I want an A-10 because it can fly slow enough and loiter long enough to grasp situational awareness of the battle field.  I have had A-10s strafe within 100 to 200 meters of my position.  I don’t want anyone dropping a bomb that close!  I promise you that no one who has been in that situation wants anyone else to be in that situation without and A-10 or a new attack aircraft with the same characteristics.”

So if not for these reasons, why did Moulton take this path? It pains me to say it because I believe in the potential of Seth Moulton as a Congressman and a national leader. But I believe he did this for reasons of pure partisan gamesmanship — the very sort of nonsense he reassured voters he’d avoid when they sent him to Washington.

You see, the A-10 debate has been a disaster for the Air Force and the Obama Administration. It’s been a huge, glowing success for Martha McSally, who resides in a vulnerable district Democrats hope to recapture. Without an opposing amendment, McSally’s imminent and almost assuredly successful request to prohibit the Air Force from retiring the A-10 would cement a massive political win for her — one that would carry her a long way toward successful re-election. Moulton’s proposal obstructs that win. At the very least, it stands to remove some of the sheen. His status as a credible veteran with little to lose in his home district for standing against an issue popular with Kelly Ayotte — a prominent Republican from a neighboring state — makes Moulton the ideal proxy for this rationalist maneuver.

Sad to say, but even those among us with obvious stores of honor are not above trading some of it away for electoral gain. Unfortunately for Seth Moulton, it’s not going to work but it’s still going to be noticed by the veterans who are counting on him to change politics in Washington. Having not weighed in on the A-10 before, Moulton has chosen an inadvisable time and manner to make his entree into an issue he’s about to learn many people — and many veterans — care dearly about.


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